Consent means actively agreeing to be sexual with someone. Consent lets someone know that sex is wanted. Sexual activity without consent is rape or sexual assault.

What’s consent?

Sexual consent is an agreement to participate in a sexual activity. Before being sexual with someone, you need to know if they want to be sexual with you too. It’s also important to be honest with your partner about what you want and don’t want.

Consenting and asking for consent are all about setting your personal boundaries and respecting those of your partner — and checking in if things aren’t clear. Both people must agree to sex — every single time — for it to be consensual.

Without consent, sexual activity (including oral sex, genital touching, and vaginal or anal penetration) is sexual assault or rape.

Here are the basics of consent. Consent is:

  • Freely given. Consenting is a choice you make without pressure, manipulation, or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

  • Enthusiastic. When it comes to sex, you should only do stuff you WANT to do, not things that you feel you’re expected to do.

  • Specific. Saying yes to one thing (like going to the bedroom to make out) doesn’t mean you’ve said yes to others (like having sex).

  • Informed. You can only consent to something if you have the full story. For example, if someone says they’ll use a condom and then they don’t, there isn’t full consent.

  • Reversible. Anyone can change their mind about what they feel like doing, anytime. Even if you’ve done it before, and even if you’re both naked in bed.

You get the final say over what happens with your body. It doesn’t matter if you’ve hooked up before or even if you said yes earlier and then changed your mind. You’re allowed to say “stop” at any time, and your partner needs to respect that.

Consent is never implied by things like your past behavior, what you wear, or where you go. Sexual consent is always clearly communicated — there should be no question or mystery. Silence is not consent. And it’s not just important the first time you’re with someone. Couples who’ve had sex before or even ones who’ve been together for a long time also need to consent before sex — every time.

There are laws about who can consent and who can’t. People who are drunk, high, or passed out can’t consent to sex. There are also laws to protect minors (people under the age of 18) from being pressured into sex with someone much older than them.

The age of sexual consent is how old a person needs to be in order to be considered legally capable of consenting to sex. Adults who have sex with someone younger than the age of consent face jail time and being registered as a sex offender. The age of consent varies in different parts of the U.S. and in different countries. There may also be other laws that define the age of sexual consent by state. Learn more about the laws in your area at the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN).

What’s sexual assault and what’s rape?

Rape, sexual assault, and sexual abuse can have different legal definitions. In general, rape, sexual assault, and sexual abuse are forms of violence in which there is sexual contact without consent — including vaginal or anal penetration, oral sex, and genital touching.

In the U.S. the legal definitions of rape and sexual assault vary. Some states use these terms interchangeably, while others define them differently. Often, people will use the term “sexual assault” to refer to any kind of non-consensual sexual contact, and use the term “rape” to mean sexual contact that includes penetration.

Anyone can be a victim — no matter their gender, sexual orientation, or age. But certain groups of people are more likely than others to experience sexual assault in their lives. Women, LGBT identified people, people with developmental disabilities, and women of color are more likely to experience sexual assault over the course of their lifetimes.

Sexual violence doesn’t happen in one single way. There doesn’t need to be a weapon involved and the victim doesn’t need to have fought back, screamed, or said “no” repeatedly in order for it to count as rape or sexual assault. Most sexual assaults don’t happen by strangers in dark alleyways. Often, it’s someone the victim knows or even a romantic partner. If you or someone you know has experienced this type of violence, you’re not alone, and help is available.

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